Michael O'Neill with Runs-Like-the-WindPhoto by: Earthfire

Among other animals we had an exquisite, playful, affectionate cougar girl here, Tahi, and a determined little three-legged deer, Runs-Like-the-Wind. We treasured them both. Spending time with a member of any species gives you great appreciation for how wondrous each one is and makes it hard to value one over another.

On New Year’s Day Amy, who originally rescued our baby deer, came to take him for an expedition in the woods on our property. As she was walking with him he suddenly bolted. She looked up and there was a cougar not 20 feet away. Her husband, Brian, was up ahead and had been seen it running in her direction. By the time Amy saw it, the cougar had just apparently seen her, turned and was walking away. Brian came back so there would be two humans protecting Runs-Like-the-Wind. The three of them made it back safely and Brian went back to track the cougar. He found a deer kill near-by. The next day we saw cougar tracks going down our driveway where it cuts through the narrow wildlife corridor on our land. They were tracks of a mother and two kittens.

So many emotions and such complexity in our relationship with animals:

We were sad for the deer who was killed. Several of them live in our corridor and I always hope for them that they make it through the winter. This last summer we had a mother with two exquisite fawns- perhaps it was one of those inexperienced young ones who was killed. But we were glad for the cougar and her kittens that they ate. And we worried for them. We live in an area that is sparsely populated but many who live here would shoot a cougar on sight or go hunting for her if they knew she was around. This was not really a safe place for her and her family.

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Tahi the Cougar – Photo by Earthhfire

We would have been devastated if Runs–Like-the-Wind was eaten but couldn’t be mad at the cougar. We would have tried to protect him but wouldn’t do so at the cost of the cougar’s life. She had a right to be there; to eat, to feed her family. Yet we have a personal connection with the little deer that makes him like family. Do you protect a member of your family by killing, even when the predator has its own rights? It is easier to demonize and kill, like we do in the west with wolves and bears and cougars, if you don’t have a personal relationship with them or their species. But we do. And our experience has helped us realize that every animal is an individual; a wondrous creation with the capacity for sweetness, whether we know them personally or not. And each animal wants to live. On what basis and how easily do we make the decision to blow them away? How do we decide with care who is to live or die given our tendency to act on limited experience and reactive emotions? Do you look at the larger picture and say yes this is a family member but we moved into a wilderness area; thus it is up to us to keep the deer safe but not at the expense of the cougar and her kittens? Do we adhere to a more family/tribal sense of belonging or do we adhere to a larger sense of community; a more abstract sense of what is right? The deer is a family member but we have learned that the cougar and her family would be just as wonderful if were able to make a personal connection. It reminds me of the wonderful book The Little Prince who cares for a rose. She is special because he waters her and takes care for her. But she is no more wonderful than any other rose.

Then there is the issue of our own safety. People like to build near woods and water where the deer are and where there are deer there are predators. How do we live together? Or do we eliminate them? Is absolute certainty and safety a goal that enriches or impoverishes us?

My own reaction to enormously enjoy the fact that I live in an area where there is still wildlife following its natural course and it is my job to keep myself; my plump malamute Talkeetna, and even plumper and juicier goat Adrianna, safe (Adrianna, having extremely high self esteem, would heartily agree). But not by killing animals who were here first and have a right, in my mind, to be here

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